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How do I Determine What to do First?

List all those tasks you need to do and prioritize them according to one or more of the following criteria:

Which jobs and deadlines are mandated from above? These are important assignments, but not always urgent. On the other hand, if your manager is pacing up and down in front of your desk waiting for an action file, you should go get it, even though it may take you away momentarily from an assignment that is both urgent and important.

Taking care of the problem gets rid of the distraction and will free you to focus on that urgent, important work needing your attention.

Which jobs, if not done soon, might create bottlenecks in your area or impede the work of departments that you serve? As a general rule, these assignments fall into the category of urgent and important (if not to you, to others).

Which jobs will have a major impact on your reputation with either internal or external customers? These jobs are important. Ask for details to determine if they are also urgent.

Which tasks can be postponed or rejected? Neither important nor urgent, these tasks can be shelved until later. There are routine tasks that often can be postponed until the next day.

Which tasks can be delegated to employees and which ones should you do yourself? When you delegate tasks, you need to make sure that your employees know the priorities you have set for them and your reasons and expectations for the work’s completion.

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Work delegated is more likely to be completed on time if your employees know its importance as well as the timeframe for completion. Fail to do this, and you will wind up reprioritizing delegated work that your employees let slide and taking time away from your own duties to do the job yourself.

Where else can you get help? Besides your staff members (who have their own priorities to deal with), you have probably collected a few IOUs from peers who might be able to offer their help. Even if they’re helping just because they don’t want to be beholden to you indefinitely, help is help, and it should be accepted.

Besides prioritizing and delegating your daily workload, you should make it a practice to challenge deadlines. You will often find that externally imposed deadlines have more flexibility than you thought. For example, does your manager really need that report on Friday? If she won’t read it over the weekend, asking to submit it on Monday will give you two extra days to edit and polish it.

How you request a deadline extension affects both your chances of getting it and the image you leave with your manager or another you ask for the extra time. State your case positively, in a collaborative manner: "It would really help if we could wait a couple of days on this report to see what direction the market will take."

Finally, since situations are so fast changing, stay in touch with your manager and customers (internal and/or external) to determine their needs and adjust either the work you are doing for them or your plans to complete the assignments to reflect any changes.